Verse > Anthologies > Francis T. Palgrave, ed. > The Golden Treasury
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Francis T. Palgrave, ed. (1824–1897). The Golden Treasury.  1875.
 
W. Wordsworth
 
CCLXXIII. Ruth, or the Influences of Nature
 
WHEN Ruth was left half desolate, 
Her father took another mate; 
  And Ruth, not seven years old, 
A slighted child, at her own will 
Went wandering over dale and hill,         5
  In thoughtless freedom, bold. 
  
And she had made a pipe of straw, 
And music from that pipe could draw 
  Like sounds of winds and floods; 
Had built a bower upon the green,  10
As if she from her birth had been 
  An infant of the woods. 
  
Beneath her father's roof, alone 
She seem'd to live; her thoughts her own, 
  Herself her own delight:  15
Pleased with herself, nor sad nor gay, 
She pass'd her time, and in this way 
  Grew up to woman's height. 
  
There came a youth from Georgia's shore— 
A military casque he wore  20
  With splendid feathers drest; 
He brought them from the Cherokees: 
The feathers nodded in the breeze 
  And made a gallant crest. 
  
From Indian blood you deem him sprung:  25
But no! he spake the English tongue 
  And bore a soldier's name; 
And, when America was free 
From battle and from jeopardy, 
  He 'cross the ocean came.  30
  
With hues of genius on his cheek, 
In finest tones the youth could speak. 
  While he was yet a boy 
The moon, the glory of the sun, 
And streams that murmur as they run,  35
  Had been his dearest joy. 
  
He was a lovely youth! I guess 
The panther in the wilderness 
  Was not so fair as he; 
And when he chose to sport and play,  40
No dolphin ever was so gay 
  Upon the tropic sea. 
  
Among the Indians he had fought; 
And with him many tales he brought 
  Of pleasure and of fear;  45
Such tales as, told to any maid 
By such a youth, in the green shade, 
  Were perilous to hear. 
  
He told of girls, a happy rout! 
Who quit their fold with dance and shout,  50
  Their pleasant Indian town, 
To gather strawberries all day long 
Returning with a choral song 
  When daylight is gone down. 
  
He spake of plants that hourly change  55
Their blossoms, through a boundless range 
  Of intermingling hues; 
With budding, fading, faded flowers, 
They stand the wonder of the bowers 
  From morn to evening dews.  60
  
He told of the magnolia, spread 
High as a cloud, high over head! 
  The cypress and her spire; 
Of flowers that with one scarlet gleam 
Cover a hundred leagues, and seem  65
  To set the hills on fire. 
  
The youth of green savannahs spake, 
And many an endless, endless lake 
  With all its fairy crowds 
Of islands, that together lie  70
As quietly as spots of sky 
  Among the evening clouds. 
  
And then he said: "How sweet it were 
A fisher or a hunter there, 
  In sunshine or in shade  75
To wander with an easy mind, 
And build a household fire, and find 
  A home in every glade! 
  
"What days and what bright years! Ah me! 
Our life were life indeed, with thee  80
  So pass'd in quiet bliss; 
And all the while," said he, "to know 
That we were in a world of woe, 
  On such an earth as this!" 
  
And then he sometimes interwove  85
Fond thoughts about a father's love— 
  "For there," said he, "are spun 
Around the heart such tender ties, 
That our own children to our eyes 
  Are dearer than the sun.  90
  
"Sweet Ruth! and could you go with me, 
My helpmate in the woods to be, 
  Our shed at night to rear; 
Or run, my own adopted bride, 
A sylvan huntress at my side,  95
  And drive the flying deer! 
  
"Beloved Ruth!"—No more he said. 
The wakeful Ruth at midnight shed 
  A solitary tear; 
She thought again—and did agree 100
With him to sail across the sea, 
  And drive the flying deer. 
  
"And now, as fitting is and right, 
We in the church our faith will plight, 
  A husband and a wife." 105
Even so they did; and I may say 
That to sweet Ruth that happy day 
  Was more than human life. 
  
Through dream and vision did she sink, 
Delighted all the while to think 110
  That, on those lonesome floods 
And green savannahs, she should share 
His board with lawful joy, and bear 
  His name in the wild woods. 
  
But, as you have before been told, 115
This stripling, sportive, gay, and bold, 
  And with his dancing crest 
So beautiful, through savage lands 
Had roam'd about, with vagrant bands 
  Of Indians in the West. 120
  
The wind, the tempest roaring high, 
The tumult of a tropic sky 
  Might well be dangerous food 
For him, a youth to whom was given 
So much of earth, so much of heaven, 125
  And such impetuous blood. 
  
Whatever in those climes he found 
Irregular in sight or sound 
  Did to his mind impart 
A kindred impulse, seem'd allied 130
To his own powers, and justified 
  The workings of his heart. 
  
Nor less, to feed voluptuous thought, 
The beauteous forms of Nature wrought,— 
  Fair trees and gorgeous flowers; 135
The breezes their own languor lent; 
The stars had feelings, which they sent 
  Into those favour'd bowers. 
  
Yet, in his worst pursuits, I ween 
That sometimes there did intervene 140
  Pure hopes of high intent; 
For passions link'd to forms so fair 
And stately, needs must have their share 
  Of noble sentiment. 
  
But ill he lived, much evil saw, 145
With men to whom no better law 
  Nor better life was known; 
Deliberately and undeceived 
Those wild men's vices he received, 
  And gave them back his own. 150
  
His genius and his moral frame 
Were thus impair'd, and he became 
  The slave of low desires— 
A man who without self-control 
Would seek what the degraded soul 155
  Unworthily admires. 
  
And yet he with no feign'd delight 
Had woo'd the maiden, day and night 
  Had loved her, night and morn: 
What could he less than love a maid 160
Whose heart with so much nature play'd— 
  So kind and so forlorn? 
  
Sometimes most earnestly he said, 
"O Ruth! I have been worse than dead; 
  False thoughts, thoughts bold and vain 165
Encompass'd me on every side 
When I, in confidence and pride, 
  Had cross'd the Atlantic main. 
  
"Before me shone a glorious world, 
Fresh as a banner bright, unfurl'd 170
  To music suddenly: 
I look'd upon those hills and plains, 
And seem'd as if let loose from chains 
  To live at liberty! 
  
"No more of this—for now, by thee, 175
Dear Ruth! more happily set free, 
  With nobler zeal I burn; 
My soul from darkness is releas'd, 
Like the whole sky when to the east 
  The morning doth return." 180
  
Full soon that better mind was gone; 
No hope, no wish remain'd, not one,— 
  They stirr'd him now no more; 
New objects did new pleasure give, 
And once again he wish'd to live 185
  As lawless as before. 
  
Meanwhile, as thus with him it fared, 
They for the voyage were prepared, 
  And went to the seashore; 
But when they thither came the youth 190
Deserted his poor bride, and Ruth 
  Could never find him more. 
  
God help thee, Ruth!—Such pains she had 
That she in half a year was mad 
  And in a prison housed; 195
And there, exulting in her wrongs, 
Among the music of her songs 
  She fearfully caroused. 
  
Yet sometimes milder hours she knew, 
Nor wanted sun, nor rain, nor dew, 200
  Nor pastimes of the May— 
They all were with her in her cell; 
And a clear brook with cheerful knell 
  Did o'er the pebbles play. 
  
When Ruth three seasons thus had lain, 205
There came a respite to her pain: 
  She from her prison fled. 
But of the vagrant none took thought; 
And where it liked her best she sought 
  Her shelter and her bread. 210
  
Among the fields she breathed again— 
The master-current of her brain 
  Ran permanent and free; 
And, coming to the banks of Tone, 
There did she rest, and dwell alone 215
  Under the greenwood tree. 
  
The engines of her pain, the tools 
That shaped her sorrow, rocks and pools, 
  And airs that gently stir 
The vernal leaves—she loved them still, 220
Nor ever tax'd them with the ill 
  Which had been done to her. 
  
A barn her winter bed supplies; 
But, till the warmth of summer skies 
  And summer days is gone, 225
(And all do in this tale agree,) 
She sleeps beneath the greenwood tree, 
  And other home hath none. 
  
An innocent life, yet far astray! 
And Ruth will, long before her day, 230
  Be broken down and old. 
Sore aches she needs must have—but less 
Of mind, than body's wretchedness, 
  From damp, and rain, and cold. 
  
If she is prest by want of food, 235
She from her dwelling in the wood 
  Repairs to a roadside; 
And there she begs at one steep place, 
Where up and down with easy pace 
  The horsemen-travellers ride. 240
  
That oaten pipe of hers is mute, 
Or thrown away, but with a flute 
  Her loneliness she cheers: 
This flute, made of a hemlock stalk, 
At evening in his homeward walk 245
  The Quantock woodman hears. 
  
I, too, have pass'd her on the hills, 
Setting her little water-mills 
  By spouts and fountains wild— 
Such small machinery as she turn'd 250
Ere she had wept, ere she had mourn'd— 
  A young and happy child! 
  
Farewell! and when thy days are told, 
Ill-fated Ruth! in hallow'd mould 
  Thy corpse shall buried be; 255
For thee a funeral bell shall ring, 
And all the congregation sing 
  A Christian psalm for thee. 
 
 
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